Dr. Paul Nolting's Academic Success Press Blog: A Publication Dedicated to Math Success 
Dr. Paul Nolting's Academic Success Press Blog: A Publication Dedicated to Math Success 
As promised, here is the second segment of Dr. Nolting's conversation with AMATYC president, Jane Tanner. Here, they discuss the state of the Math Pathway system. We will publish part three the week after Thanksgiving. Nolting: I’d like to discuss the current status of the Pathway system. For those who don't know, maybe you can start by describing what "pathways" are? Tanner: It describes different ways to get to your first credited math course. It is not [the traditional method] where you take college algebra, then intermediate algebra, then precalculus, and so on. Many of our students do not need calculus but they do want a math course that doesn’t involve the sort of heavy mathematics that students tend to dislike. So what has been worked on is a different type of course that will still apply algebraic constructs but make them more applicable to life, more hands on. Not like the old math of [household] finances and that sort of stuff, but rather [these courses] are designed to give students an “Aha!” moment, like "I might be able to use this sometime." I don’t know if you know this, but have your heard of the Seattle 15? Nolting: Yes. Tanner: Well I was one of the fifteen. I was in the right spot at the right time. It was amazing to be in a room with fourteen other people and a facilitator, and just brainstorm. We knew the status quo was no longer acceptable and that we needed to think outside of the box. We developed this way of thinking where you don’t need quadratic equations or whatever, but you could help students out and help them get through curriculum they are actually interested in. This led to another meeting a year later. We met at Carnegie and continued to develop some of these exercises. It was like watching the birth of a baby: it has grown and grown. I think at one point Carnegie and the Dana Center were working together, but they somehow split off. AMATYC has its own “New Life.” They are all encompassing the same things, but they are all a little bit different. We have a lot of authors out there who are buying into this, which is really helping us make our students become more successful. There is always room for improvement. Earlier, you mentioned students who want to change majors. We do offer a course at my school [to address this] that is on the Quantway model. It is a credited course, so students can go from a noncredited course to a course similar to a beginning algebra placement. They can then go into a precalculus course afterward. But we can’t always make our decisions based on “what happens if students change their minds.” We can do our best to work with these students, but, like fifteen years ago, sometimes a major change results in a longer stay in college. Another problem I see with the Pathway system is that our counselors and advisers do not understand it at all. They, at least at my school, used to have trouble placing students into the correct courses before pathways; now that we have introduced a few more liberal arts math classes, in addition to our pathways classes, it is really confusing. There needs to be an education system put in place for the people who advise our students into our courses. Nolting: I totally agree. When I work with colleges, I get that question all the time. One of the responses is: even in the previous days when you went from intermediate algebra to a finite math class, and you were close to graduating with a liberal arts degree, then halfway through the finite math course you decided you wanted to make money so you changed your major to business, well at that time you had to go back and take college algebra through applied calculus. So it is kind of similar to what we are doing now, but it looks like your college has provided a different pathway, just in case a student changes his or her major. Tanner: We have pathways similar to what other colleges are doing with Quantway, but we still [allow students to enter] a beginning algebra course and then get into one of two different liberal arts math classes, which are credit bearing. So if you don’t want to do the pathway, you can still take beginning algebra. But it is our hope that we can phase beginning algebra out, at least in the number of sections we offer. Of course, if you are going into a major that needs calculus, then you are going to need beginning algebra. But if you are not in that path, then go the other way. Another thing to consider, with the new Pathway systemsmaybe students are going to get turned on to the math they take. Maybe these systems will turn their dislike of math, or their thoughts about how they aren’t good at math into thoughts of “I can do well in math!” Nolting: Right. I have had students who didn’t like math, got into the pathways, then took the liberal arts courses with Quantway. They made an “A” or a “B”, and all of a sudden they considered going back and trying to take intermediate algebra. If they previously wanted to be a premed major, but thought they couldn’t handle the math—they now feel confident enough to go back and try. Tanner: I think it builds up their confidence, if they give it a chance. Because it is different and students aren’t used to it, some don’t like Pathways. More so for the ones, at least the ones I know, who go from prealgebra into one of our two liberal arts classes. If they are not successful, they just say give me an “x.” At least I can cope with an “x," even if I don’t understand it. But in our other courses, we do other things like voting theory, circuits, and other topics. Some people aren’t comfortable with these things, so they go back and take traditional courses. But what I think is important is that we do offer choices so students can decide on their own. Nolting: The key is, the more realistic choices we give students, the more likely they are to complete a math course. We also have students going into statistics, and they find out that they don’t hate math as much as they thought they did. Tanner: Right. We also have a liberal arts statistics course at my college. It is not Statways. Nursing students take it, criminal justice majors take it. A course like that is good for anybody to have, not just students interested in math. In the common core, it seems that things are moving toward more of a statistical understanding—so that is how we address the problem at my college. But we are investigating whether or not we want to implement Statway. We do have somebody coming in November to a meeting we are going to send representatives to—and their school does offer both Statway and Quantway. We are going to send three or four people to go and listen. We are going to pick his brain to see if that is a good way for us too. That concludes Part Two! Click here for Part Three.
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AuthorDr. Nolting is a national expert in assessing math learning problems, developing effective student learning strategies, assessing institutional variables that affect math success and math study skills. He is also an expert in helping students with disabilities and Wounded Warriors become successful in math. He now assists colleges and universities in redesigning their math courses to meet new curriculum requirements. He is the author of two math study skills texts: Winning at Math and My Math Success Plan. Blog HighlightsAmerican Mathematical Association of TwoYear Colleges presenter, Senior LecturerModular Reader Contributions
